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Maryland lawmakers approve $577 million to settle HBCU lawsuit

Maryland lawmakers gave final passage Wednesday to a measure to pay $577 million over 10 years to settle a federal lawsuit alleging discrimination and underfunding at the state’s four historically Black colleges and universities.

The House voted 120-14 to send the measure to Gov. Larry Hogan, who vetoed a similar bill last year after citing economic difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate approved the bill 47-0 earlier in the day in response to the 15-year-old lawsuit.

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The governor’s office did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

This year’s measure would not begin payments until fiscal year 2023 in an adjustment to account for the pandemic’s fiscal impact.

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Most of the measure’s provisions are contingent on a final settlement agreement between the parties by June 1.

The lawsuit dating to 2006 alleged that the state had underfunded the institutions while developing programs at traditionally white schools that directly compete with and drain prospective students away from HBCUs.

In 2013, a federal judge found that the state had maintained “a dual and segregated education system” that violated the Constitution.

In 2019, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a fourth attempt at mediation, but the case has remained unresolved. In February 2018, Hogan had proposed a $100 million settlement to be allocated over a 10-year period, but the plaintiffs rejected this proposal and offered to settle the case for $577 million to be “spread over a reasonable time period.” The Republican governor later offered $200 million to settle the case.

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Maryland’s four historically black colleges are Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

The funds in the settlement would be used for scholarships and financial aid support services, as well as faculty recruitment and development The money also could be used to expand and improve existing academic programs, including online programs, as well as the development and implementation of new academic programs.

The measure creates an HBCU Reserve Fund to hold unused funds at the end of each fiscal year. A new academic program evaluation unit would be formed in the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

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